Algeria marched into the semi-finals of the TotalEnergies African Nations Championship (CHAN) in dramatic fashion, after a highly entertaining encounter with Cote D’Ivoire had to be decided in the dying stages courtesy of Aimen Mahious’ penalty conversion at a packed Nelson Mandela Stadium in Algiers on Friday.
The drama-filled encounter lived up to its high expectations with all the ingredients of a quarter-final clash between two of Africa’s football powerhouses.
The action kicked off at a frantic pace with both sides having a go at each other in search of an early lead to the enjoyment of the expectant crowd.
Midfield sensation, Zakaria Draoui was unlucky not to put his side ahead in the 8th minute after doing well to isolate himself from his markers as a cross from Youcef Laouafi found the midfielder unmarked whose header came off the woodwork.
In an immediate response, the Ivorians should have grabbed the lead when a golden opportunity fell for Aziz Abdoul, who was found unmarked by Salifou Diarrassouba but misdirected his strike with nothing but the goal at his mercy.
Again it was the hosts in attack as the game continued to heat up when a delightful ball from Laouafi, who was a livewire down the left side for the Fennecs, found target man Aimen Mahious, whose well-taken header was acrobatically saved by Ayayi Folly in the 11th minute.
Drama ensued in the 19th minute after Algerian shot-stopper, Alexis Guendouz was sent off for an early shower after a dangerous tackle on Abdoul to the disappointment of the hosts.
As fate would have it, minutes later it was The Elephants who were reduced to 10 men after Kouassi Attohoula was sent off for a dangerous foul on Laouafi, as both sides went into the break with 10 men on the field.
Coming off the break, the two sides continued where they left off, launching attack after attack in search of the all-important opener.
The Fennecs had the first chance of the second stanza after Choahaib Keddad did well to press down the right for a cross to Mahious whose attempted header was well directed but lacked the firepower as it was saved by the keeper.
Minutes later, 19-year-old William Sankara almost stunned the hosts after unexpectedly firing from the edge of the danger area, but was unlucky to see his strike go inches over the bar.
Mahious remained a threat to the Ivorians and again came close to grabbing the lead in the 78th minute after a cross from Meziane Tahar saw the target man leaping forward for an impressive diving header that found an equally alert Folly who made the save.
The Ivorians continued pressing forward even against the highly vocal crowd and were unlucky not to grab the lead when substitute Mohamed Zougrana almost made an immediate impact after a deep run from the midfielder concluded with a brilliant strike, that had the beating of the keeper but went over the bar.
With just minutes left in additional time, the all-important deciding goal came in dramatic fashion after the troublesome Mahious was brought down by Aziz Siahone in a decision that had to be verified by VAR for the striker to step up and slot it home as the Nelson Mandela stadium erupted in celebration.
Algeria will now await the outcome of Saturday’s match between Niger and Ghana to determine their semi-final opponent in a match that is set to take place at the Miloud Hadefi Stadium in Oran on Tuesday.